Sad to say but my wife and I have had experience with this on both of our sides. In the last 5 years we have lost both sets of parents, most recently my wife's father this past December. This is a topic that is very personal and I hope that by sharing my experience it will help others that have elderly parents prepare for the future.
If there is no one living in the house it might be a good idea to change the locks and forward mail to the Executor of the Will as bills, like the utilities and mortgage payments, still need to be paid until the house is sold. You may have no idea how many people have keys to the house so by changing the locks it gives you peace of mind that their is no one entering the home when you are not there.
Search every nook and cranny. Sometimes people stash cash in the strangest places such as taped to the bottom of drawers, inside crawl spaces and, yes, under the mattress. Look for any important documents, such as bank books or statements, that you will need to settle the estate. Shred all sensitive documents, especially those containing personal numbers, that you will not need.
This may be the most emotional aspect of cleaning out the house but it is important to sort belongings among the surviving family members. Experts say it hastens the process if you sort belongings into 3 piles, items to keep, to donate or sell and to throw away. If family members squabble about distribution, set aside the disputed items until all the sorting is finished and emotions have settled. Then, try taking turns by each choosing an item or memento. Consider trading several items for a treasure you truly desire. Sentiment aside, get real valuables appraised to determine actual value.
The final step is to prepare the house for sale. If the home, like the case for me, still looks like it did when you were growing up it is time to make some changes to update the look. You can make very simple changes to update the home for very little money. Getting all family members involved in this process will get the house ready for listing that much faster.
- If the furniture is old or worn, get rid of it. Don't leave it in the house because it will detract from the sale.
- Look at the floor covering. Consider its condition. If there is carpeting over wood floors, expose the wood floors. Replace cracked ceramic tiles. Clean carpet over plywood or buy new carpeting.
- Window coverings. If the window coverings are dated, throw them out. Most windows look better without heavy draper or worn blinds.
- Walls. Some people paint once and never again. The cheapest and most effective change to any home is with a fresh coat of paint. If the walls are dark, just by choosing a new lighter shade of paint for the walls changes the look drastically.
- Replace dated light fixtures, patch cracks in the ceiling and paint.
- CLEAN CLEAN CLEAN!!! What detracts potential buyers is a home that looks like it hasn't been cleaned in decades.